The role of age in causal attributions for poor performance: Target and rater effects
Cox, Cody Brent
Beier, Margaret E.
Doctor of Philosophy
Previous research has demonstrated that raters evaluate the performance of older and younger targets differently as a function of the raters' ages (e.g., Shore, Cleveland, & Goldberg, 2003). This discrepancy may result from a belief that older workers' performance is affected by age-related declines in abilities (Posthuma & Campion, 2009). In these two studies, I explore the attributions that raters make for age-stereotypic and non-stereotypic poor performance of targets of different ages. In the first study, participants evaluated a fictional older or younger target; in the second study, participants evaluated someone they recently supervised. Results of the first study indicated that attributions for poor performance mediated the relationship between target age and both performance. Older targets demonstrating poor performance rated as stereotypical of older adults were more likely to have their performance attributed to uncontrollable factors and attributions to uncontrollable factors were negatively associated with recommending additional training for the target. Participants were more likely to attribute younger targets' poor performance to lack of motivation and lack of job knowledge than older targets' poor performance. Relatively older raters were more likely to penalize poorly performing older targets than relatively younger targets were; this relationship was mediated by the fact that relatively older raters were more likely to attribute the performance of older targets to lack of motivation than relatively younger raters were. In contrast, results of the second study revealed a negative relationship between rater relative age and perceived target's performance regardless of the target's age; further, this relationship was fully mediated by participants' attributions for the targets' performance. Both studies highlight the impact of the attributions raters make for the poor performance of a target on outcomes for the target. Results also indicate that the relative age of the rater has a strong effect on attributions for a target's poor performance.